"This Congress is not obliged to be bound by the dead hand of the past...The first Senate, which met in 1789, approved 19 rules by a majority vote. Those rules have been changed from time to time...So the Members of the Senate who met in 1789 and approved that first body of rules did not for one moment think, or believe, or pretend, that all succeeding Senates would be bound by that Senate...It would be just as reasonable to say that one Congress can pass a law providing that all future laws have to passed by two-thirds vote. Any Member of this body knows that the next Congress would not heed that law and would proceed to change it and would vote repeal of it by majority vote." Robert C. Byrd, 1/15/79, Congressional Record.
When Senator Byrd participated in the filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it required a 2/3s vote, 67 Senators, to invoke cloture. In 1975, Byrd led an effort to reduce the number of Senators necessary to limit debate to 60, the present number necessary to invoke cloture.
Seantor Byrd had at least two honorable, reasoned arguments he could have made this week in opposing Republican efforts to reduce the number of Senators necessary to invoke cloture to a simple majority, 51 Senators.
1. He could have acknowledged his prior position on this issue and stated that he was wrong then, that one Senate can bind succeeding Senates, and that the number of Senators necessary to invoke cloture should never be changed. He could then have made his arguments as to why no change should be made.
2. In the alternative, after acknowledging his prior position in the 1970s, he could have made a "Goldilocks" argument (one soup is too hot, one too cold and one "just right"): 67 votes were too many for cloture, 51 is too few, 60 is "just right."
It would have been interesting to hear what arguments Senator Byrd could then have made to support either proposition.
Instead, Senator Byrd decided to in effect say that Hitler and Republicans were similar, a tactic used by others in last year's election when some of those opposed to President Bush equated him with Hitler.
If a Republican called a Democrat a Communist, the Republican would be accused of McCarthyism. How is a Democrat in effect calling a Republican a Nazi any more acceptable?